County’s top cop, prosecutor honored; Pileggi, Simpson, Coatesville PD earn honors
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
WEST CHESTER — It was a gathering that would have been a nightmare to those who would seek to do harm to the people of Chester County.
In a packed Courtroom 1 in the Chester County’s Justice Center on a snowy Friday afternoon, a broad swath of the county’s law enforcement community gathered to honor their own as District Attorney Tom Hogan announced his annual awards for police and prosecutors.
The room was packed with a veritable who’s who of the county’s law enforcement and justice system, including three Court of Common Pleas jurists – Judge David Bortner, President Judge James P. MacElree II and Judge Jacqueline C. Cody – county Sherriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, County Commissioner Terence Farrell, and dozens of other luminaries from local and county law enforcement.
The ceremony — which included the swearing in of two county detectives promoted to sergeant — comes after an admittedly challenging year in the county for law enforcement, Hogan said.
“We had a lot of crazy things happening” he said, running through the list of events of the year, specifically citing the seizure of gold plated dog heads during a drug-related arrest in Caln in June as an example of the odd and often challenging events of 2012.
“But through it all, our county’s law enforcement personnel were there to stand up to keep the bad guys from hurting the people of Chester County,” he said.
Three main awards were presented along with a number of commendations during the hour-long ceremony.
Detective Darren Sedlak of the West Goshen Police Department was named Chester County Law Enforcement Officer of the Year; Deputy District Attorney Ronald Yen was named County Prosecutor of the Year and County Detective Kenneth Beam was named Chester County Detective of the year.
Sedlak, Hogan said, earned his honor — informally called the “Leo” award because the permanent trophy for the award features a lion — from his overall excellence as a police detective, but shone in three specific cases.
First, Hogan said, Sedlak’s dogged work in the so-called “platinum posse” case — a case in which local thieves organized a plot to rob cars’ catalytic converters to harvest the valuable platinum within.
Second, Sedlak was praised for his work on the Morgan Mengel murder case — Mengel faces a March retrial after her initial case was declared a mistrial in February 2012, an obstacle Sedlak handled with professionalism, Hogan said. Mengel is accused of plotting with a lover to murder her husband in 2010.
Noting that Sedlak worked the case as it evolved from a missing person’s case to a homicide, Hogan said that the detective never wavered, and even the mistrial — which would frustrate virtually anyone who had worked a case for nearly two years — did not dissuade him.
“Darren’s reaction was: ‘There are things we can do better next time.’ “
Finally, Hogan praised Sedlak for being “the first guy who volunteered” for Silent Night, Hogan’s series of raids on Coatesville drug dealers during the summer of 2012, raids coordinated with county detectives and police personnel from all over Chester County.
Hogan said he sent Sedlak to photograph some evidence, but that the detective came back to the office sporting facial injuries.
“He came back with his eye split open,” Hogan explained. When the District Attorney asked him if he fell, Hogan said, Sedlak said no, but that he had tackled one of the suspects — “the main bad guy” Hogan said — because he was trying to get away.
“That’s typical of Darren,” Hogan said, who also praised him as a “team player.”
And throughout all of this, Hogan revealed, Sedlak was helping his wife battle cancer — she’s in remission now, and the couple have become advocates for those battling the disease — he said.
Sedlak, though, refused to take sole credit for his actions.
“Anything I do, someone else is directly responsible for making it happen,” he said, saying he would only accept the award on behalf of his fellow officers.
In praise of Yen, named Prosecutor of the Year, First Assistant District Attorney Michael Noone said he was equally skilled at prosecuting violent crime as well as white-collar crime, a rarity among prosecutors.
Another anomaly among normally loquacious prosecutors: Yen was a man of few words during the ceremony, initially limiting his acceptance to “thank you.” He later explained that he was trying to follow the example of Ulysses S. Grant — who issued similar comments at a ceremony where he was promoted to Lt. General during the Civil War.
Beam was named Chester County Detective of the Year, in part, said Chief County Detective James Vito, because of his skills as a forensic investigator.
“He’s been recognized by multiple law enforcement agencies for his skill,” Vito said.
Hogan also announced five commendations — three to police departments — and two to individuals.
Coatesville — new Chief Jack Laufer and Sgt. James Audette were on hand to accept — was honored for its work in the arrest, conviction and ultimately, the death sentence for Laquanta Chapman in the murder and dismemberment of Aaron Turner.
Hogan said that the department’s officers went above and beyond having “spent a freezing winter looking through a landfill for Aaron’s remains.”
The Upper Uwchlan Police Department was honored for the arrest and conviction of James Hvizda in the murder of his wife, Kimberly Hvizda, while the Willistown Police Department was honored for the arrest and conviction of Kim Nguyen for the robbery of a TD Bank.
The individuals honored — New Garden Police Chief Gerald Simpson and State Senator Dominic Pileggi — were honored for the inception and adoption of new state laws involving gang recruiting, which followed a gang-related double homicide in New Garden in December 2011. Simpson was honored for the idea for the law — which includes makes gang recruiting a crime — and Pileggi, the Senate Majority Leader and state Senator for most of southern Chester County, because the law went from concept to law in a matter of months, a real rarity, Hogan stressed.
The ceremony also included the swearing in of Michael McGinnis and Robert Dougherty, two county detectives who were promoted to sergeant.